“Am I abusive?”
Darkness never levied that charge against me. In this one teensiest way, I was lucky, I suppose: I never had to struggle beneath the crushing weight of belief that I was the abusive one.
Sadly, I do know a number of women who have been accused of abuse by their abusers. Like staring into a fun house mirror, their worlds were turned upside-down and the failings of their partners deftly reflected back upon them.
They believed what they saw.
And I understand why.
On power imbalances and bears in cages
I used to spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to maintain the delicate peace in our home.
It was a losing game.
That’s because, like all abuse victims, I was held to an unfair, unrealistic set of expectations—expectations that could (and would) shift on a whim. And when I failed to live up to those impossible expectations, Darkness felt justified in hurling insults and furniture.
On the other hand, Darkness didn’t believe I was entitled to my own anger; any expression of frustration or disappointment on my part was perceived as a challenge to his authority.
So, when he raged, called me “worthless,” and threw my clothes around the bedroom, I was expected to swallow my anger, hang up my shirts, and not say a single solitary word.
One more of his impossible expectations, I guess.
Because just like a bear who’s been repeatedly poked through the bars of his cage by a bully with a pointy stick, I cowered less and reacted more. Unable to stuff my anger any longer, my fear dropped away and I fought against the power imbalance in our relationship. Sometimes, I reacted in ways I never dreamed I was capable of—screaming obscenities, slamming doors and storming around the house. My friends talked about times when, in the heat of the moment, they became violent.
All behavior that, taken out of context, probably looked a whole heckuva lot like abuse.
Anger does not equal abuse
This is important, so I’ll repeat it: Anger does not equal abuse.
Just because you’ve been angry — even if you’ve expressed it in unhealthy ways — it does not mean you’re an abuser.
In fact, turning your anger against you is yet another common abuse tactic ripped from the pages of the abuser’s playbook — and it’s intended to relieve you of even more of your personal power.
Whether the abuse comes in the form of pointy sticks or pointed words, the result is the same — after one thousand and one sometimes subtle, other times overt acts of abuse, the victim reaches her breaking point and reacts.
And as she loses control over her emotions, her abuser turns her anger against her.
“Stop yelling! Put that down! You should see yourself—you’re crazy! Mark this Exhibit A: You. Are. Abusive.”
In that moment, when the victim feels so out of control and unlike herself, it’s simple to see why she finds it so easy to believe she’s the abusive one, when, in fact, she’s only revealing that she’s human.
So, she tries to fix the situation by enduring more and fighting back less, giving the abuser even greater control over her.
Am I abusive? It comes down to two little words:
Pattern & Control
Abuse can look very different from one relationship to the next. For some, the abuse is overt and predominantly physical. For others, the abuse may be far more subtle and psychological in nature. Regardless of the tactics, it all boils down to a repeated set of behaviors used to gain power and control over a partner.
So, if you’ve found yourself in that place, the place where you did things you swore you’d never do, and you need to know if your behavior was abusive, think back and ask yourself:
1. Do I see a pattern of disregard for my partner?
What happened when your partner said your behavior was hurtful? Did you take responsibility for the pain you’d caused? Did you examine your behavior and take steps never to repeat it?
Or, did you disregard your partner’s feelings and continue to behave as you always have?
2. Am I trying to control my partner?
When you were angry, were you intimidating your partner? Were you fostering an atmosphere of fear, so that you could more easily control and manipulate him?
Or, were you acting in a self-protective way, resisting his control and attempting to right the power imbalance in your relationship?
If you answered no, yet you feel like you can’t check your emotions or behave in rational, healthy ways, you may be the victim of abuse. Reach out to Turningpoint for help.
And remember—there’s a huge difference between being abusive and being human.